The last year and a half has marked a core shift in the way we work. For the most part, being unable to meet face-to-face has closed the work office we are used to, and has forced the opening of the digital workspace. A world made entirely of video calls, shared team calendars and text-based chatting.
For some of us, this was an unwelcome change. But as the pandemic seems to be drawing to a close, employees now expect the option of flexible working to remain available – with 43% of people hoping it sticks around.
This also, with a bit of luck, marks a shift in attitude towards taking advantage of flexible working. Pre-pandemic, there was a huge increase in ‘grind’ culture, with millennials and Gen Zs taking pride in working to the point of burnout. Flexible working could be the way out: it can boost productivity, and is certainly better for employee wellbeing than the work-till-you-drop attitude.
There is enough stress in the workplace, without added performance stresses (and a pandemic). This is even more prominent when it comes to startups. Startups, by their very nature, are high-risk high reward. The odds are against you, but success is a very real possibility. Just remember – while it’s important to improve customer retention, it’s just as vital to retain employees. Flexible working can be a great way to achieve this.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working can refer to a variety of different work patterns. At its simplest, it gives employees the autonomy to decide how they would like to work. There are several benefits of flexible working, including increased productivity, employee satisfaction and employee longevity. Before we take a look at these, let’s look at what flexible working can mean.
How long you work
It can refer to the hours an employee works, for example through flexible arrival and departure times, or allowing employees to choose and control their shifts. It can look like compressed shifts, or work on/work off weeks, or even just working to deadlines rather than a set number of hours per day.
Where you work
Alternatively, flexible working could be less about how long you work for – but where. This is the biggest shift we have seen in the last year, with people moving from mostly working in the office, to working from home. As long as you can access the tools you need – whether that’s webinar platforms, cloud storage or team chat apps – you can work.
Flexible working could allow people to stay home full time, or part-time. Having the freedom to work wherever you want could even enable you to live abroad while working, or to travel around a lot – something very appealing for a younger workforce.
When you don’t work:
Finally, it could be referring to employee leave. Many employees are used to having a limited number of paid days off, which can pressure them to keep working even while they are sick. Hopefully, the pandemic will help change this, as we can now see the potential risks of not isolating yourself from others when you are feeling unwell.
Many companies now offer opportunities for sabbaticals or career breaks, or even unlimited paid time off. While this may make you nervous that employees may take advantage of this, what it actually does is build a sense of trust between the company and its workers, encouraging honesty and diligence.
It’s not just holidays, either. There has been an increase in the availability of caregiving leave. This is particularly important as many workers have children or elderly relatives who rely on them. They could be extremely qualified, but unable to work without this being an option. You wouldn’t want to lose a brilliant employee!
There are lots of things startups can do to help ensure their success. From optimism demonstrated by the CEO to strong HR departments. But flexible working could be the one trick you missed.
Improves Employer and Employee Wellbeing
We all love having options, and flexible working gives us the autonomy to make decisions for ourselves. This is particularly important in startups, which according to Wilbur Labs, 10% fail due to burnout. Burnout isn’t just about feeling worn down – it can be a huge health risk, and takes time to recover from. When this happens, your productivity slows and the quality of your work slackens. Spending time and energy on employee wellbeing can prevent this.
But how does flexible working improve employee wellbeing?
Simply put, it allows employees to customise their job to meet their needs. If they are an early bird and love having the afternoons available, then they can switch their shift to finish by 3 pm. This freedom to choose how you work can let you add other things into your life that bring you happiness, and the more satisfied an employee feels, the better the quality of work they will produce.
Employee mental health is something that is being given increasing importance by companies, and if you are not thinking about it then you are falling behind. There has been a dramatic increase in anxiety and depression across the population in the last decade, and finding a compromise that alleviates this and allows people to do their best work is beneficial to everyone involved.
Focusing on your HR department
This improved employee wellbeing can also have a ripple effect on the HR department. HR works primarily on internal relations in a company, ensuring that employees are satisfied with their workplace, and directing the hiring process for new staff. If you’re providing everything your employees could need, then HR will have fewer employee complaints to deal with. Like we mentioned: retaining employees is as important as customers, as you won’t need to spend time hiring (and training) new workers. By boosting HR efficiency, focus can be put on other things while the employers and employees continue to maintain their successful relationship.
Attract the best candidates for roles
When it comes to hiring, the most important thing is that the person you choose is the best for the role. Imagine you’re looking for a copywriter and SEO wizard – someone who knows how to guest post and build relationships with other brands. Since so much of this job could be done remotely, why limit yourself to local talent? Experts can be found worldwide, and sometimes the perfect fit might be located on the other side of the globe.
Flexible working widens the pool of candidates – and not just due to location. In terms of employee priorities, 76% of workers said they would want to work fully remotely. People seeking work now expect this to be an option.
The logistics of remote working
So, you have rounded up these excellent candidates, and found out just how productive they are due to your excellent flexible working policies. Of course, it is important to consider how the workforce can continue to work effectively together without face to face contact. This is why it is a really good idea to do some research into the best productivity tools available.
Think about things like how they’ll share digital documents, how meetings will happen, and whether you need to invest in any new hardware as well as software. By ensuring you have the best tools in place, you can take advantage of all these benefits with ease.
Economic and Environmental Benefits
Flexible working has economic and environmental benefits for both employers and employees.
A digital meeting or web conference brings with it a lack of commuting that is much better for the planet – and the employee’s pocket. For example, a season ticket to travel into London can cost upwards of £5,000 depending on where you live! Regardless of your income, that is a significant cost for travelling to work.
Creating an online workplace
If everyone is working at different times, in different locations, you might be able to reduce the amount of physical space you need. Whether you scrap the office entirely, look for co-working solutions, or simply downsize, it’s a great way to reduce your rent.
Regardless, it remains very important that your workspace (be it virtual, or in real life) has a great employee culture. This could be from a general atmosphere or through more subtle and practical steps. It could be a one-off gesture, such as investing in your employees’ home offices – letting them claim back that expense of a new office chair, for instance. Alternatively, you can invest in ongoing efforts like online team activities and regular catch-ups.
Most importantly, this can create a relaxed culture, with employees that love their remote workplace. With happy, productive employees, you’re well on your way to success.